Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Flatey Experiance!

Wow!!! What a fantastic 11 days I’ve had on Flatey Island!!! As you’ve probably already guessed there was no Internet cover on the island, so therefore I’m going to provide a full report on the birds we caught.

So after the 3 hour drive from Reykjavik to Stykkishólmur on 15th, checking Great Northern and Red Throated Diver nesting sites along the way – we arrived in Stykkishólmur at around 15:00hrs, just in time to catch the Baldur ferry to Flatey Island. Once on the island we settled in and ringing was ready to commence!

But before that could happen I had to learn one or two things before we started. The first, learning the different types of ring sizes to put on and learning the Icelandic way of the ring size codes, the Icelandic’s use a mixture of letters & numbers – so A being the biggest ring and 9A being the smallest.

A – Whooper Swan
0 – Cormorant
1 – Gyr Falcon / Shag
2 – Eider / Mallard
3 – Lesser Black Backed Gull
4 – Puffin
5 – Black Guillemot / Kittiwake
6 – Redshank / Golden Plover
7 – Arctic Tern / Snipe
8 – Ringed Plover / Dunlin
9 – Red Necked Phalarope / Snow Bunting / Meadow Pipit
9A – Redpoll / Wren.

Secondly – I had to learn how to apply bird rings using plumbing pliers! Back in the UK, the only rings I use plumber pliers on are M rings for Swans. But here in Iceland we used them to ring all species from Snow Bunting and Meadow Pipit to Shags and Fulmars.

Thirdly – How to use a Fleyg net to catch Arctic Tern, Puffin, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Red Necked Phalarope out of the air!!

Over the 11 days we caught 1261 birds of which 1223 were new and 38 were recaps. Below is a species by species account of what we caught -


Throughout the whole Fjord there are a total of 10.000 pairs of Kittiwake breeding in 57 colonies.

New birds ringed - 692

Recaps caught - 1
Arctic Tern

2000 pairs of Arctic Tern breed on Flatey Island itself, with many other colonies on nearby islands.

New birds - 331
Recaps - 2.

I had a little bet with Orri (Ævar's field assistant) that I could catch an adult Arctic Tern out of the air with my hands!!! It was hard but successful in the end!!

Black Guillemot

Ævar has been studying the Black Guillemots on Flatey Island for the last 35 years and over that time has ringed over 20.000 birds. There are 160 pairs on the island.

New birds - 82

Recaps - 0.

20 pairs of Fulmar nest on Flatey with many other pairs also nesting on nearby islands. We had the company of the Discovery Channel for two days, they came over from New York to film vomiting Fulmars and Ævar ringing them.
New birds - 23
Recaps - 2

A video of Ævar attempting to catch a Fulmar on the water. He catches many adults this way.

Puffin ticks on the feet of a Fulmar chick!


Throughout the whole Fjord there are 700 Puffin colonies. The largest of these colonies has 40'000 breeding pairs of Puffin!!

New birds - 22
Recaps - 27

Many of the Puffin chicks were too small to ring, however one or two of the bigger chicks were ringed.

Two years ago Ævar and Sverrir fitted 20 Geo Dataloggers to Puffins. They wanted to know where the breeding birds were spending winters. Last year (08) they managed to recatch 7 of the birds and again this year we dug deep into their burrows and pulled out two with Dataloggers.


30 new birds.


New - 1

Recap - 1

Red necked Phalarope

40 pairs breed on Flatey.

New - 3 birds

Ringed Plover

25 pairs breed on the island.

New birds - 16

Apparently Flatey has the densest breeding population of Snipe in the world, with 85 - 90 pairs breeding on the island.

New birds - 3

Recap - 4

Snow Bunting

New birds - 3


New bird - 1

Recap - 1

Meadow Pipit
New - 5


New birds - 7
Dead birds found with rings - 2


New birds - 4

I'm now in Akureyi in northen Iceland with Sverrir. We plan on checking and catching/ringing a few Whooper Swans over the coming week before my colleagues from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust arrive. When they are here, we will be catching at a large moulting site at Lake Sandvatn.

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